All The Emotional Eaters Please Stand Up!

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One’s personal relationship with food speaks volume about the person itself. So whether the equation is of love, hate or fear the fact remains unshakable that  no matter how ones feels about food, it has direct repercussions not only on weight but also on emotions.

Eating has never been simply about satisfying hunger. Confront 26 year old Rachel Siri (name changed) and she will nod in agreement. Married and settled in an apparent idyllic life with her writer husband in Glasgow, Rachel guard’s one secret. She is a chronic emotional eater. In a technical way, it can be also defined as binge eating disorder.

What does that imply?

Simply that she has no control on what she eats, how much she eats and at what time. She consumes an entire box of cookies every time she gets into an argument with her husband and has secret stash of snickers stashed away in the bathroom and not to forget six packets of marshmallows in the garage. “In case of an emotional emergency,” she mentions sheepishly. Moreover, she gulps down tall glasses cold coffee at a whim and has been addicted to diet coke since her teenage years. And every time she feels emotional or helpless, she seeks solace in her friends: greasy and sugary foods, especially donuts. What makes this worse is the point that her eating pattern reflects on the weighing scale as weighs around 200 pounds. “My friends and family repeatedly ask me to lose weight since I am petite by frame and 5.2 feet only. I know they mean well but these regular comments on my weights just acts as a thrust in my emotional eating issue”, she adds.

So after intending her addiction to food, one is forced to ask; is there is serious connect between food, weight and emotions?

Yes, there is. According to French psychologist Stepahne Clerget, people eat not only to suppress hunger but to also deal with emotions. And it is true indeed, since food is symbolic of many things. Like happiness, joy and even thrill perhaps? Agrees Mumbai based weight-loss expert Radha Sharma, “The first time a parent offers a chocolate to a crying child, food takes a different meaning. From a very early age food takes the role of a comforter, a way to beat depression, boredom and sadness.  It’s not just a way to nourish the body but also the soul”.

The above statement does ring a bell specially in a social gathering setting. In case one is brave enough to refuse a piece of cake or glass of high-calorie drink, or the offer to hit a pub after work, the repercussions are inevitable.  Does the term boring, rude or anti-social sound familiar?

Kinds Of Kilos? Yes Ofcourse!

So it won’t be an overstatement to state that kilos/pounds gained are of mainly of three types. Stephane Claret categorizes them as “pound-reactions” which are triggered by events which are easy to classify such as grief, separation or a difficult job transfer. Many other emotions are directly connected to feelings which are old and often trace back to our childhood and thus are more complex to define.

It’s somewhat ironic since compulsive eating occurs specifically to prevent emotions from surfacing, at most times. The final category is similar to an anxiety response. A cookie when upset or a tub of ice-cream to deal with a nagging boyfriend, perhaps?  Difficulty occurs when stress becomes unending because the feeding response then follows the same path.

“Crisis surfaces when emotionally driven food habits take over from healthy eating and result in uncontrolled weight gains, which in turn acts a push to binge as a way to beat depression,” says weight-loss expert Radha Sharma.

In case you are wondering about the traits of an emotional eater, begin by asking 4 primary questions:

  • Do you eat when I am not hungry?
  • Do you crave certain kinds of food often?
  • Do certain kinds of food make you happy, joyous of even depressed?
  • Do you reach out for my favorite snack when I am stressed, sad, lonely or unhappy?

If the answer is “YES” to more than two questions above, then its time take to preventive measures.

5 Ways To Curb Emotional Eating

 1.      Document the times when you are at your weakest self, emotionally.

It’s best to get acquainted with one’s food triggers”, says Radha Sharma.  For example, does stress related to work ensure that you reach out for that bar of chocolate? After a long and tiring day do you like to unwind with a heavy meal? Asking these tough questions will ensure that one stays alert to what’s going on emotionally.

Try This: Whenever you feel the craving, gulp down a bottle of water. It usually acts as a “fake hunger” killer.

2.      Don’t undermine the role of stress and boredom.

It will be foolish to assume that stress and boredom don’t play a role in you piling on emotional weight.  Says Radha Sharma “Lack of positive ways to channelize emotions will result in one thing: Extra and unnecessary kilos/pounds and self-hate”.

Try this: Next time you are overwhelmed with boredom and stress, get away as far from junk food as possible. Go for a quick walk or listen to some soothing music.

3.      Change your personal environment.

If one is surrounded by people who use food for recreation often there are chances that one will be stuck in the loop of binge eating without an exit. It’s best to say no, politely. The idea is not to offend anyone but to look out for yourself.

Try This:  Got invited to go club after work with colleagues? Just say, “I am so sorry but I have some other commitments. Next time, promise”. It’s simple and effective.

4.     Learn to spot real hunger.

“An average human been needs about 3 proper meals a day (unless on a distinct diet),” believes Radha.  And if one is consuming a decent portion of protein, carbohydrates and veggies, the chances of developing cravings gets depleted. Beware: Craving does not mean hunger!

Try This:  Next time you are craving for a packet of chips, reflect on that and ask yourself, “I am not hungry. Then why do I want chips”? An honest answer will act like a liberating factor and will ensure that you know the difference between hunger and hankering

 5.      Don’t deprive yourself; It will make things worse.

Curbing emotional eating is diverse from deprivation. Deprivation is a sign of low self-esteem and no matter one tries, it only adds to the misery. It’s best not to rob oneself from the good things. Just know when to stop.

Try this:  Focus on other aspects of your life. Maybe it’s time to get that radical new haircut you have been planning for while? Or maybe learn Japanese? Weren’t you planning to go scuba diving? It’s time to put the spotlight on you than on food. You will notice a change.

Only if one keeps a reminder that it’s a process and everyday requires baby steps. For example, It’s best not to over commit and give up chocolates altogether since such aims are unrealistic and will surely flop. Instead, make a deal. Reward yourself with a price of chocolate after you ran for 30 min extra on the treadmill. Getting a grip is all that it takes. The journey just becomes easier after that.


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Please note: Written by Neha Ghosh, this article first appeared in

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